Monday, January 11, 2016

The Relevance of Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio is receiving a lot of attention for a new film called The Revenant, in which he endures a number of unpleasant experiences, including being roughed up by a cantankerous bear and having to dine on a raw bison liver. The life of a Hollywood star is not as sybaritic it’s cracked up to be!

As the star in the title role, Mr. DiCaprio is “the revenant,” a word we don’t see much of these days. The Oxford English Dictionary traces its first use to 1828, in Sir Walter Scott'sThe Fair Maid of Perth, where it means “one who returns from the dead; a ghost.” Formed from the present participle of the French revenir (“to return”), revenant can also mean “one who comes back after a long time away.”

Incidentally, Webster wants us to pronounce the word in the French manner, i.e. rev-uh-NONH, although it allows an anglicized REV-uh-nunt as second choice.

The film, written and directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, a man with one too many diacritical marks in his name, is based on a 2002 novel by Michael Punke called The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge. Since writing it, Punke has become U. S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, and as a government official, he is forbidden from publicizing the reissue of his novel. “He can’t even sign copies,” complains his publicist. Punke, however, is not forbidden from collecting the royalties, which will no doubt be ample.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is always eager to sign copies of his work.  He has a closetful of them, waiting for someone to ask for one.

            Did Leonardo’s tummy quiver
            When he had to eat that liver,
            Or did he say, “It’s all for art—
            Please pass the kidneys and the heart”?           


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